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Posted at 1:24 PM ET, 12/29/2010

Imperfect 2012 candidates leave plenty of room for newcomers

By Jennifer Rubin

Each time a 2012 Republican presidential contender makes a misstep, his or her supporters hasten to remind us that no candidate is perfect. True enough. Barack Obama had virtually no experience, was one of the most liberal members of the Senate and had opposed the strategy that was leading to victory in Iraq. Still, he beat Hillary Clinton, who had even bigger problems (e.g. running an "experience" campaign in a "change" election).

So what are the greatest weaknesses for the potential crop of 2012 contenders, and what are their likely responses?

Mitt Romney's problems are two-fold -- an underlying sense that he lacks deeply held convictions and his authorship of RomneyCare. As to the first, he would be well advised to stop his reflexive pandering to the most conservative elements in the party (opposing the tax agreement, for example) and to concentrate on his strength -- projecting executive competence and explaining conservative economic principles. As for RomneyCare, it is not clear that simply declaring that he wouldn't impose the plan nationwide is going to cut it. Conservatives object to the fundamental elements that underlie it (most especially an individual mandate), and Romney's critics will point to its failure to control costs.

Mitch Daniels's biggest problem isn't his height. His weakness is also his strength -- a laser-like focus on fiscal reform. As a GOP candidate, he will be expected to opine and appeal to the base on social issues and to explain his national security vision. Conservatives fed up with Obama's reticence in projecting American values and refusal to challenge despotic regimes will want to hear an alternative conservative perspective. To the extent Daniels suggests that defense spending is simply an item in the budget or sounds neo-isolationist, he will not endear himself to a party that has largely embraced a Reagan-esque foreign policy and a devotion to democracy and human rights abroad.

Tim Pawlenty was a successful governor, is solid on mainstream conservative positions and has no obvious personal shortcomings. And yet in gatherings of conservatives, he's not a name that engenders enthusiasm. Too bland or too quiet? It is not clear what is missing there. But he will need to carve an identity in the presidential field that will distinguish him from other governors in the race.

Sarah Palin's faults are well known and her critics are numerous. I am still not convinced that she will risk her fame, fortune and iconic stature in the conservative movement by becoming just another candidate, and one unlikely to convince an electorate beyond core conservatives to vote for her. But if she does run, she surely would be helped by dumping the "lamestream media" act. She's not a victim of elites; she's played them like a fiddle. The public doesn't need to be convinced that Washington is lacking in common sense. They want to hear what her answers are to our domestic and international challenges and to be reassured she can implement her conservative values. She left the Alaska governorship, in large part, because she was hounded by ethics complaints and critics. Unless she shows a tougher skin and a more ebullient outlook, she's be in for a rough time.

There are, of course, a slew of other candidates who may jump into the race. Mike Huckabee, Chris Christie, Paul Ryan, Mike Pence, Haley Barbour and John Bolton will need to decide in the next few months whether to take the plunge. Huckabee's conservative bona fides will be questioned. Christie's experience will be challenged. Ryan and Pence will need to beat the rap that "congressmen can't win the presidency." Barbour will need to overcome his self-created problem on race. And Bolton will have to demonstrate prowess beyond foreign policy. But none of these candidates should be dissuaded by the notion that there isn't room in the race for them.

To the contrary, the "top tier" candidates have name recognition but have serious shortcomings. The race is wide open, and the notion that a "lesser known" candidate can't win is simply preposterous in a media and campaign environment in which Christie has become a YouTube rock star and Ryan has emerged as a darling of wonkish conservatives.

By Jennifer Rubin  | December 29, 2010; 1:24 PM ET
Categories:  2012 campaign  
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Romney, Huckabee, Palin, Daniels, Pawlenty, Christy and Barbour - a good crop of current or ex-governors. Look at the list of presidents of semi-recent past who have been governors - G. W. Bush (2 terms), Clinton (2 terms), Reagan (2 terms) and Carter (1 term).

My choice would be a Christy / Ryan ticket.

Posted by: coffeetime | December 29, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

Christie - Ryan sounds like a great ticket but unfortunately it won't happen until 2016.

Any Republican candidate that doesn't drool in public will have a solid base of support but that won't be enough to beat Obama.

To beat Obama someone will have to excite Tea Partiers and appeal to independents while not alienating social conservatives

I don't see Daniels or Pawlenty exciting anybody. I'm not sure if Pence is willing to appeal to independents. Thune?
Romney, Palin, Huckabee and Gingrich are unelectable.

Posted by: jay22 | December 29, 2010 2:23 PM | Report abuse

To clarify I don't think Romney can get the nomination. If he crosses that bridge then he is very electable. I just don't see any part of the Republican base that will enthusiastically support him.

Posted by: jay22 | December 29, 2010 2:26 PM | Report abuse

Anyone who hasn't yet read Bobby Jindal's "Leadership and Crisis" should do so before considering the better candidates for 2012.

Posted by: stevek45 | December 29, 2010 2:43 PM | Report abuse

I'm surprised Jennifer didn't mention Jeb Bush - thought he was a favorite dark horse of hers.

Posted by: Maidrya | December 29, 2010 3:44 PM | Report abuse

Of these names I believe Romney will have the best chance to win the general election.. especially if economy is still bad. But to win the primary his problem is the Tea Party and Romneycare. But in his favor is I don't think Palin is running and no one else can unite the right wing against Romney. Once nominted Romney must pick a Tea Party favorite as a running mate and hope that will bring them on board. BTW the strongest Republican for 2012 wasn't even mentioned.. That would be Jeb Bush. He could unite the party and I don't think having Bush as his last name will hurt him as much in the general as people think...

Posted by: sovine08 | December 29, 2010 3:45 PM | Report abuse

It surprises me that people as naive as Ms. Rubin are hired to write columns. But then I remember that they're hired precisely because they say nothing at all so gracefully. Mustn't upset anyone.

Political contests aren't won by carefully crafted position platforms and well-prepared, sensible candidates. They are won by the people who are the right place at the right time saying the right things.

Palin doesn't need Rubin's advice. She already know, unconsciously at least, that her "faults" (like cultivated ignorance, overweening self-importance, and gross stupidity) are her strengths among her base. They contribute to her star power, which alone is more important to her voters than RomneyCare or tea parties or whatnot all put together.

People who show up at primaries and caucuses decide who nominees are going to be. The star will get the votes, because people like stars. That's how it is. Rubin's e-gumflapping won't change a thing.

Posted by: karlmarx2 | December 29, 2010 3:49 PM | Report abuse

The reason Hillary didn't win the nomination is because Pelosi bribed the Superdelegates to support Obama, the DNC took delegates away from Hillary at the convention and gave Obama half the votes in Michigan which he didn't earn. Watch the video:

Also, the MSM didn't vet Obama the way they vetted everyone else.

The MSM was charmed by his narrative: Post-racial (Ha!) Black Candidate becomes First Black President. Never mind Obama is half white. Which means he's the first (to our knowledge) bi-racial President.

As for the Republicans: Romney, Huckabee, Barbour, Pawlenty, Daniels are RINOs. Christie supported RINO Castle and Bolton is a member of the NWO Bildeberg Group.

Palin has been destroyed by the MSM and RINOs and Pence I haven't vetted yet.

All I want in 2012 is electing a President who adheres to the Constitution, limited government, decreases spending, paying down our debt, lifting ban on oil drilling, enforces our immigration laws, repeals Obamacare/Financial Reform Act, returns land to the States, limits the EPA, abolishes the Energy Dept, abolishes Dept. of Education & returns Education policies back to the States, believes in America exceptionalism, is a REAL leader, competent and doesn't bow to other World Leaders.

Now that's not asking too much is it?

Posted by: janet8 | December 29, 2010 3:57 PM | Report abuse

Notably absent from this list of potential wanna bes is Newt. Guess Ms. Rubin either does not take him seriously when he says he is evaluating a run or, more likely, she is a shrewd handicapper who understands Newt's time has passed and he will continue to bask only in the reflected light of his past greatness.

The most signifcant thing about this list is that absolutely none of those mentioned have the gravitas to challenge Obama; many of them have been successful governors but are either so isolated on the right or deficient in any degree of national exposure (e.g. Daniels) that simply getting name recognition is going to require a lot of money spent before Iowa and when the real money clock starts to tick.

Probably a better way to handicap this race is to evaluate which of these candidates has the better fund raising machine and can get the backing of traditional Republican interests; that is whom will be the candidate and you can bet the sharpies on Wall Street and in the Board Rooms are not going to get strongly behind anyone they do not see as a sure winner; better the keep another four year truce and lay off some money to Obama and friends to hedge their bet; after all that is what they are really good at: hedging.

Posted by: bobfbell | December 29, 2010 4:04 PM | Report abuse

Of all of the candidates you posted which of them every talked about forcing health care down the throats of the American people. Which of these candidates ever said they wanted to change our fundamentals and transform this country to socialism. Name one of these candidates who used class warfare to divide the people. Which candidates used racial politics to anger the blacks and the Hispanics. Not one of these candidate ever said they wanted to move forward and that means abandoning our American values and principles for socialist values and principles. Please tell us, which of these candidates attacks this country on a daily basis the way Obama does with his claims this country is broken. I think the American people would like to know which of these candidates were caught calling the American people bigots, racist, loonies, and stupid. Which candidate agreed with building the mosque near Ground Zero. Which of these candidates agreed with suing Arizona. Which of these candidates wanted to hold the trials for the Gitmo terrorist in civilian courts. Which of these candidates agreed with holding closed door meetings on the details of health care. Which of these candidates agreed with Obama being tone deaf to the people. The so called short comings your so concerned with are the short comings of Obama and the Democrats, wouldn't you say.

Posted by: houstonian | December 29, 2010 4:09 PM | Report abuse


They all stink.

Posted by: maritza1 | December 29, 2010 4:15 PM | Report abuse

"...the strategy that was leading to victory in Iraq."

And just what was that?

Posted by: areyousaying | December 29, 2010 4:58 PM | Report abuse

Bobby Jindal is my choice. He has taken one of the most corrupt states and turned it around.
But he hasn't been in the MSM headlights so unless he speaks out he won't be noticed.

Posted by: LarryinMD | December 29, 2010 5:21 PM | Report abuse

Romney has too much hidden baggage to be a GOP contender. And he doesn't have much sense either.Romney is more intent on destruction and being dominate. The Alpha male without a bit of common sense.

Posted by: LOL1 | December 29, 2010 6:03 PM | Report abuse

I hope Obama eats the lunch of any Republican challenger and have all his haters pissing in their beer for another 4 years.

Posted by: jfoster13 | December 29, 2010 6:24 PM | Report abuse

John Bolton????

Posted by: jprice2 | December 29, 2010 6:37 PM | Report abuse

If you're going to add a fellow named Mitch Daniels to the mix the least you could do is include a brief bio as to who he is.

Posted by: russellglee | December 29, 2010 7:29 PM | Report abuse

The more you look at this field, the more it splits into those whose time has passed and those whose time has not yet come - creating a very large Jeb Bush-shaped hole. Successful two-term governor, fiscal and social conservative by reasonable standards, known to the establishment, fluent in Spanish, conversant with Washington but not of Washington, new on the national scene. And with a name that is sounding better and better every day to the broad middle of the Country. Not to mention the schadenfreude potential.

Posted by: Mahon1 | December 29, 2010 8:03 PM | Report abuse

Rick Santorum. We haven't had a man with his personal integrity since Richard Nixon.

Posted by: markg8 | December 29, 2010 10:56 PM | Report abuse

Jeb would have a better chance if his last name was Hitler and not Bush. Which is to say he has no chance.

Posted by: markg8 | December 29, 2010 10:59 PM | Report abuse

I think Rubin is missing the point about the so-called "ethics" complaints leveled against Governor Palin. Alaskan law did not allow the state to defray her legal expenses which threatened to bankrupt her (which, of course was the objective of her enemies). But the more important reason for her stepping down was the flood of FOI requests which threatened to paralyse the administration. Her decision to step down was responsible in the circumstances--particularly in view of the fact that she had already delivered on all her promices to the Alaskan people.

Posted by: genecarr100 | December 30, 2010 4:49 AM | Report abuse

Ms. Rubin left out the 2 least known but the 2 that are more qualified than all the rest. Hermain Cain and Gary Johnson. All the RHINO cadidates better have their best lies ready as these are powerful thinking men who say what they mean and are not ashamed it.

Posted by: flyvie | December 30, 2010 8:28 AM | Report abuse

If Palin runs, she wins the Primary. Almost no question, but especially if there are like 7 (or more) dwarves against her.

But if she does run, she surely would be helped by dumping the "lamestream media" act.
Wrong. 1) She certainly IS a victim of elites, especially overpaid, underproductive news media folk.
2) As long as the lamestream media report her like an enemy (including this column), she should treat them as hostile to her -- with smiles and jokes, if possible. Many conservatives are sick

They want to hear what her answers are to our domestic and international challenges and to be reassured she can implement her conservative values.
This might be true, but she's been FAR more open in Facebook and the WSJ than Romney or any others.

Of course, it's anti-Palin (lamestream) pundits who want to destroy her that are particularly and unfairly interested in her, and looking to spin everything she says or does as badly as possible.

We already know Palin was against QE2 before many other economists -- do we know the QE2 positions of any of the other 2012 hopefuls? I think she is wrong on this, but knowing her position clearly contradicts Jen's idea that we need to know more about her positions. Instead, it shows the hypocrisy of double standards against Palin, setting a bar far higher than anybody else is jump over.

A bit like the unfair anti-Hillary Dem stuff.

Posted by: TomGrey2 | January 1, 2011 7:36 AM | Report abuse

I think some in the political class underestimate Palin's power and I can understand their fear of that power.

For me, I hope she remains in her current role as 'king maker'. She is in the perfect position to adroitly handle the 'professional' media pundits while draining the leftists of resources when she comments on a candidate.

I've expounded on the idea a little here:

Give me Paul Ryan in 2012.

Posted by: b5blue | January 1, 2011 12:17 PM | Report abuse

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